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Delhi HC issues notice in plea seeking protection of privacy of COVID-19 patients

The Delhi High Court on Wednesday issued notice in a petition seeking the Delhi government to frame new guidelines to protect the privacy of people infected with COVID-19. The plea sought to stop the circulation of names of people who have tested  positive for COVID-19 on WhatsApp groups, and to remove the requirement of pasting posters outside their houses.

The notice to the Delhi government was issued by a Division Bench of Justices Hima Kohli and Subramonium Prasad, and the petition was filed by Kush Kalra. Advocate Chinmoy Pradip Sharma represented Kalra, and the Delhi government was represented by its additional standing counsel, advocate Satyakam. The Delhi government has to file its affidavit within two weeks, and the matter has been listed for hearing on November 3.

Arguments made in the petition

In the petition, which MediaNama has seen a copy of, Kalra argued that pasting posters on houses of COVID-19 patients and sharing their details on WhatsApp groups is a violation of their right to privacy. Besides, he alleged that names of people who have tested positive for the virus are being freely circulated to RWAs by officials of the Delhi government’s health department, which are in turn being circulated on RWA WhatsApp Groups. Other arguments made in the petition:

  • ‘Stigmatises patients’: Kalra also said that this is “leading to stigmatisation and drawing of unnecessary attention when in reality Covid-19 persons ought to be given privacy to cope with and recover from the illness in peace away from prying eyes. Rather, they are being made the centre of public attention of over-inquisitive neighbours and busy-bodies in their colonies”.
  • ‘Counterproductive to aim’: Even if the government is doing these things to contain the spread of the virus, these measures are proving to be counterproductive, Kalra said. “People are shying away and deliberately choosing not to test themselves to shield themselves from the public embarrassment and stigmatisation which is being caused by pasting posters outside homes and circulation of names of Covid-19 positive persons to all and sundry,” he argued in his petition.

COVID-19 and surveillance

Ever since India went into a lockdown in March, and cases of COVID-19 kept increasing, the centre and state governments started deploying several surveillance measures:

  • In March, it was reported that a document containing the personal information of 722 residents of New Delhi, which included their names, phone numbers, passport numbers, and email ID, among other things.
  • The Karnataka government had published the home addresses of quarantined residents as a deterrent to individuals who were breaking their quarantine and stepping outside.
  • Some states like Tamil Nadu have used facial recognition based quarantine monitoring systems, while some others have deployed drones on the streets to keep an eye on lockdown violators.
  • The Delhi government was also tracking phones of people placed under quarantine.

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